As we inch closer and closer to mid-June, we’re also inching closer and closer to the start of NFL training camp.
That’s right, while the sports world has been shut down for quite a while due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the NFL has been given the gift of time. In fact, other than a draft full of live fans, the league has yet to surrender much to COVID-19, save for offseason workouts and possibly full stadiums come the fall— and even that has yet to be conceded.
As for the other leagues? They’re still trying to figure things out. The NHL and NBA were shut down in mid-March, just weeks before the start of their postseasons, while Major League Baseball’s spring training was interrupted in mid-stretching session.
Will any of those leagues actually re-start? There’s still hope the NHL and NBA can have their postseasons— as non-traditional as they may be. Unfortunately, baseball owners and their players have been engaged in an unflattering money war that may ultimately snuff out any hopes of a regular season and postseason.
Too bad for all three, really. While safety has to be the top priority when deciding whether or not to resume sports, just think of how welcoming fans would be to even one league playing at this moment.
Imagine the NHL having the spotlight all to itself right now— of the four major professional sports leagues in America, the NHL is a distant fourth (sixth, if you throw in major college sports). You know how long it’s been since I truly cared about hockey? Over a decade, and even then it was only because I had a girlfriend who was super into the Penguins. My gosh, I love sports so much, I miss sports so much, I can easily envision myself sitting down right now to some exciting Stanley Cup playoff action, with or without the Penguins, with or without fans in attendance.
That’s how hungry I am for sports.
I would imagine countless other fans around the country are just as hungry. How awesome would it be for the NHL to gain new supporters in many of the proverbial flyover states that normally don’t pay much attention to hockey? Picture some seven-year old kid in, I don’t know, Topeka, Kansas, suddenly becoming enthralled with the abilities of Penguins star center, Sidney Crosby, as he watches No. 87 do his thing night after night on national television. Most people around the country probably couldn’t pick Crosby— only the best hockey player in the entire universe— out of a lineup. This could be a great opportunity for NHL stars to have center stage all to themselves and become actual household names in the country they spend most of their time playing in.
What about the NBA? Of all the major professional sports leagues not named the NFL, the NBA has the least to worry about in terms of popularity. LeBron James and Steph Curry are household names everywhere— even in “We don’t give a damn about basketball!” Pittsburgh, Pa. What if the NBA was all my fellow Pittsburghers could watch between now and the end of summer? How would the ratings be? Would Pittsburgh suddenly start clamoring for an NBA team?
You just never know who will fall in love with you when you’re the only game in town.
And, of course, there’s baseball, a sport America has been quite bored with for decades. In an era where most people grow impatient when it takes longer than four seconds to pull something up on their smartphones, baseball does itself no favors with multiple pitching changes, seventh-inning stretches and four-hour games.
This could be a great time to train sports fans to appreciate the slower nature of the game of baseball. While MLB is tweaking things to try and speed things up, baseball will always be inherently slower— that's its essence; you don’t have to have action every second of the game. Sometimes the anticipation of a big pitch is almost as exciting as the pitch itself.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like any of these leagues will be able to truly steal the spotlight away from the NFL, a league that still expects to air regularly scheduled programming this fall.
I know what you’re going to say, those other sports overlap with football each and every year. Therefore, if the NFL didn’t lose fans to them then, why would they now, even amid a pandemic?
Ever binge-watch a program on one of those streaming services? You just can’t stop watching, right? And it doesn’t matter what your world was like before you found this show. You must consume each episode until you get to the end (or at least the end of the latest season). That’s how it was for me and Ozark a while back. I didn’t care about any other show. I didn’t care as much about the Steelers. I didn’t even care all that much about going outside (it helped that I wasn’t allowed).
The NHL, NBA and/or MLB could have hooked some sports fanatics into binge-watching their product by now.
Instead, they were all compromised, while the fans got to see the NFL conduct its business about as close to normal as possible.
When NFL training camps start up in about six weeks or so, it’s going to be hard to get anyone to care about anything else in a sporting sense.
Just like always.